Decision Time

The new fiscal year has begun without a budget blueprint or any spending guidance enacted; the fiscal year 2010 deficit has been pegged at around $1.3 trillion, the second highest (behind last year) as a share of the economy since World War II; public debt is projected to rise to previously unseen levels; opinion polls consistently rate deficits/debt as a top issue; and candidates campaigning for office across the country are talking about the topic, though few are yet offering detailed plans to address it.

So, what to do about it all? It’s time for specific ideas to be discussed and for detailed plans to emerge. CRFB is leading the way with its recent “Getting Specific” event and the Let’s Get Specific series of papers with detailed proposals.

But don’t just leave the ideas and plans up to the wonks and politicians, offer your own. CRFB’s Stabilize the Debt online budget simulator offers you the opportunity to make your own budget choices and see how they would contribute to the goal of reducing the debt. The simulator--that has received over 100,000 hits since it was launched in May and has been well-received from all sides of the political spectrum--is now better than ever!

We have made some significant updates and improvements to the simulator so that it is an even better tool for understanding the scope of the problem and the tough decisions that will be required, as well as for discussing potential solutions.

We listened to the feedback from simulator users and have added several new policy choices, such as instituting a public health care option, freezing federal civilian pay, and taxing fringe benefits. These join especially pertinent options involving the 2001/2003 tax cuts, troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, stimulus funding, Social Security, farm subsidies, research and development, a VAT, a carbon tax, and the mortgage interest deduction.

We also updated the baseline numbers based on new figures from the Congressional Budget Office. Since our new projections based on reasonable policy assumptions indicate a worsening of the longer-term debt outlook compared to previous forecasts, reaching the goal of reducing the debt to 60 percent of GDP by 2018 is now more difficult. Even if you have tried it before, it is worth doing again.

Additionally, it is now easier to save and share your full results with a new print and save function on the "Results" page. This makes the simulator even more practical for class assignments, town halls, etc. Recommend it to friends. Challenge your candidates for office to do it and compare results.

There is plenty of talk about budget and fiscal policy during this election season, which will only increase afterwards with a post-election session of Congress set to tackle tax and spending bills and a White House fiscal commission due to release recommendations for improving the fiscal outlook. Don’t get left out of the debate. Take the simulator challenge and join the discussion on CRFB’s Facebook page.

Let your voice be heard. Be a part of the discussion -- and the solution.